Whatever professional field you are in, you can improve your career success with these networking tips. Follow the steps, suggestions, and use the references below to let your networking go to work for you.
Making a Plan
Networking happens on a daily basis as we meet and interact with colleagues and acquaintances. Quality trumps quantity; so, make sure that you are having meaningful interactions, rather than going out to meet as many people as possible with no other goal in mind. And, as we say throughout these pages, begin with a plan.
Think about 3 key things:

What is your long term goal, Are you going after a specific job in an identified field, Are you investigating a certain company or career path, Or are you looking for even more general information, The more specific you are the easier it will be for people to help you.

Who can help you achieve your goal, Examples include other professionals in the field you are investigating, employees of other companies that do similar work, teachers, consultants, career counselors and personal coaches.

Where can you meet the people who will help you, Networking happens all the time and everywhere. There are formal networking events that may be sponsored by your local Chamber of Commerce where individuals are very intentional about exchanging business cards and making contacts. Another networking tip is to check out career fairs offered in your area by local industry and civic associations. More common, however, is the informal style of networking that happens at social events or community activities. Tailor your approach to each type of event and always be willing to “pay it forward,” by offering to help even before you ask for help yourself.

For more networking tips on the many ways that networking can work for you, try Networking Is a Contact Sport by Joe Sweeney.
Using Existing Connections
If you’re not sure where to begin, start with the people you know.
Think about a time when you needed to make a new connection, say, to a reliable auto mechanic. You may have started out by scanning the yellow pages only to realize that there’s no way to know who’s honest and competent. What do you do then, You do what everyone does: they turn to friends, family and acquaintances for a personal recommendation. If the first person you ask can’t offer you a good referral, he or she may know someone who can, and if not, you move on to the next person on your list, and the next. Pretty soon you make the connection you were looking without your set of official networking tips!
It’s no different with professional networking.
Begin by putting the word out to the people you know, including family, friends, current or former colleagues, and others you have met in social or business settings. Tell them your long term career goal. If you don’t that yet, if you’re still in the exploratory phase, ask them to introduce you to someone who can tell you about an industry or a particular kind of work. Match your requests to where you are in your career search process.
It’s a numbers game and the more people you ask, the faster it goes. It won’t be long before you find someone who will be able to help you with a good solid lead. The important thing is to keep moving.
And don’t be intimidated. People who do this for a living remind us that everyone networks, all the time, throughout their lives. We’re social animals. It’s what we do.
Check out the at Leadership Institute to learn more networking tips and learn how to expand circle of sphere of influence.
What Can You Offer,
Always remember that networking is a two way street. While there are certainly a few big hearted philanthropists who are happy to give without expecting anything in return, most of us are more attracted by the idea of a mutually beneficial relationship. Offer to be helpful whenever you can, even if your ability to do so is limited. The gesture will not go unappreciated.
At the very least, recognize that whenever there’s a networking conversation under way both parties are expanding their circle of influence. If you can make a concrete offer of support or assistance, so much the better. Doing so creates a positive association and could signal the beginning of an important business relationship. If you have the chance to lend practical assistance to a networking partner, you then have the chance to show off your skills, your team spirit and your work ethic in a ways that could soon have job offers coming your way.
Following Up
Once you have made the initial connection with someone who can help you toward your long term goal, make sure to follow up with that person. Don’t wait for them to initiate the contact, or you may never hear back from them. Find a legitimate reason to give your contact a call, invite them out for discussion over coffee, or collaborate on a project.
Getting the relationship started is a great first step, but it will be up to you to build on this connection to strengthen the fabric of your network.
And always remember, networking is a lot like rolling a snowball downhill. Most of the effort comes at the beginning, but as your campaign gets moving it begins to take on a life of it’s own. People you reach out to in your networking efforts, in time reach out to you, and the number of your contacts begins to multiply.
Pretty soon, you’ll be running to catch up, which is, after all, exactly what you want!
For more networking tips on following up with your new connections, take a look at Fifty-Two Ways to Reconnect, Follow-Up and Stay in Touch, When You Don’t Have Time to Network by Anne Baber and Lynn Waymon.